The Thieves of Naples
NAPLES, ITALY, the week before christmas. At Osteria Tonino, a small family restaurant, we were seated with friends of the owner who recognized us from the film. After lunch, the five of us went to a coffee bar where Bob and I got luscious little pastries. The couple made fun of my tiny sips and bites, explaining that in Naples, people eat the pastry in one bite and down the coffee one gulp (which is especially tiny in Naples—always ristretto). When I turned back to the bar for my next sip of coffee, the cup was gone. Everyone laughed. You pick it up—put it down: done. The bartender made me another coffee when he was realized I hadn’t finished it.
The trattoria Nennella has been repeatedly recommended to us. In preparation for going to this restaurant in the infamous, dangerous Quartieri Spagnoli, Bob carries nothing. I remove even my wedding band. Looking at the wrinkled white finger-skin, I imagine getting mugged and, showing my ring finger, saying “hey, your competition already got me, even my wedding ring.” Only three blocks into the ancient quarter, the buzzing scooters are nerve-wracking. There’s a certain freedom in carrying nothing, but the pickpockets and muggers don’t know we have nothing. Or almost nothing; I have credit cards and a little cash in my pickpocket-proof underwear. [I know I appear to be over-cautious. It looks worse in print, and sounds ridiculous after-the-fact, when nothing has happened.]
But—it’s Sunday. Nennella is closed. A nearby group of people recommend La Pegnada, a few blocks away. It has no character but good food: penne alla sciciliana (con melanzane) and frito misto (squid and shrimps). Pulcinella is mounted high on the wall. Leaving the restaurant we bead directly for Via Toledo, the street that borders Quartieri Spagnoli and is comparatively safe. It’s mobbed with christmas shoppers, tangibly festive.
Between meetings, our goal is to find Angelo, a pickpocket we’ve known more than ten years. His phone number is no longer valid (of course), so we’ll try to find him through his brother, Luciano (whom we first met 14 years ago). Luciano, we know, retired from pickpocketing a few years ago. Both brothers were in our film. Angelo’s the one who wowed us with that beautiful, poetic line at the end: “Bob. You and I do the same thing. The difference is: you make people laugh; I make them cry.”